The role of volunteers on our National Nature Reserves is a highly valuable one. Richard Carpenter and Liz Knowles are working at our Beinn Eighe Reserve in Wester Ross for three weeks and have agreed to give us a couple of updates about their experiences.
Liz and I retired two years ago from teaching and environmental consultancy, and have since been engaged in ad hoc voluntary work locally for Shropshire Wildlife Trust. We get a lot of satisfaction from it and often wondered about repeating the experience up here (after thirty years, Scotland’s north-west highlands and islands are still our favourite holiday haunt). The mountains and wildlife of Torridon had attracted us many times previously and volunteering at the Beinn Eighe NNR was particularly appealing. Having booked a cottage last September which happened to be next door to the visitor centre, there was no excuse now.
Our initial telephone enquiries were met with equal enthusiasm by Kenny Nelson (SNH Area Officer at Kinlochewe) who saw a strong overlap with what we could/wanted to do and what would be useful. Needing little excuse to return, last January we timed some winter walking with a visit to the Kinlochewe Office and Field Station to meet Kenny and Eoghain Maclean (Reserve Manager).
The idea was to find common ground for our involvement and we all agreed three weeks was a suitable stint in the first instance. Liz was particularly keen on May-June when Eoghain mentioned he’d welcome some company then in monitoring black-throated divers on the nest. Two people were required for each boat trip and having a willing volunteer with him would release one of his staff for other priorities. I am also interested in birds (not so fanatically, I must admit) and hearing the sea eagle webcam would be working by that time sealed the deal.
We were introduced to the rest of the Kinlochewe staff and given a whistle stop tour of the facilities. The setup is impressive and seeing it first-hand reminds you how much goes on behind the scenes; so much is taken for granted. The reserve’s management and research elements were further reinforced by a short drive along the reserve boundary with Kenny pointing out key features of the work.
Well, it’s now been a week here and we have got out nearly every day which broke up the desk work. The initial brainstorming energised us all and generated a long to do list – wildlife gardening and ponds, the visitor centre, species monitoring, community education, business links, profile raising and networking for later. We are also learning a lot about conservation issues and solutions in the area.
We have started each morning in the office at 8.30am to plan the day. Tasks are already pencilled into our diaries but some outdoor activities naturally are dependent on the weather (for example, there’s no point counting butterflies in the rain, they have more sense). We can talk about this week’s variable Scottish weather ’til the Aberdeen Angus come home but at least rain and wind keep most midges down! Apart from the rescheduled butterfly monitoring, we have also helped on a deer count, putting in a tree transect and getting some ideas going for the visitor centre.
The days have been full and by 5pm (the nominal close of play) we are ready to take stock and relax at the hostel. The students there are a friendly bunch and it’s been interesting swapping tales with them from the day.
We are looking forward to the coming fortnight which no doubt will also fly past. I’ll let you know how we get on!
Richard (and Liz in absentia, she is out just now looking at those black-throated divers)
Find out more about Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve at http://www.nnr-scotland.org.uk/beinn-eighe/
Images (c) Lorne Gill/SNH except black-throated diver (c) Laurie Campbell/SNH and images of Liz Knowles and group shot outside office (c) Eoghain Maclean